TitleDoes Animal Behavior Underlie Covariation Between Hosts' Exposure to Infectious Agents and Susceptibility to Infection? Implications for Disease Dynamics.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsHawley, DM, Etienne, RS, Ezenwa, VO, Jolles, AE
JournalIntegrative and comparative biology
Date Published2011 Jun 22

Animal behavior is unique in influencing both components of the process of transmission of disease: exposure to infectious agents, and susceptibility to infection once exposed. To date, the influence of behavior on exposure versus susceptibility has largely been considered separately. Here, we ask whether these two key mechanisms act in concert in natural populations, whereby individuals who are most exposed to infectious agents or have the most contact with conspecifics are also the most susceptible or infectious. We propose three mechanisms that can generate covariation between these two key elements of the transmission of disease within and among hosts, and we provide empirical examples of each. We then use a mathematical model to examine the effect of this covariation on the dynamics of disease at the population level. First, we show that the empirical mechanisms generating covariation between behavioral and physiological components of disease transmission are widespread and include endocrine mediators of behavior, mate choice, group size, sickness behaviors, and behavioral avoidance of infectious conspecifics. The diversity of these empirical mechanisms underscores the potential importance and breadth of covariation in the disease process. Second, we show mathematically that the variability in hosts' exposure to infectious agents and susceptibility or infectiousness, and how tightly they are coupled, strongly influences the ability of a disease to invade a host population. Overall, we propose that covariation between behavioral and physiological components of transmission is likely widespread in natural populations, and can have important consequences for the dynamics of disease at the population level as well as for our understanding of sexual selection, social behavior, and animal communication.